More interactive environments and improved character detail is a step in the right direction. Rehashed single-player modes and its cut-down player roster is a step backwards.
As far as rabid fan-bases go, WWE fans are about as hungry as it gets. I’ll admit I have been a WWE fan since I was a child, back when it was still called WWF and its action figures were made out of hard rubber that could be used as lethal weapons.
But as far as their gaming series goes, sometimes it seems the franchise can rehash the same game year after year, and those loyal fans will still continue to cop the latest edition. And while graphics generally improve year to year and new characters are added, often times the changes in each game are so small you wonder if it’s even worth it.
I’m not here to tell you Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is a complete disappointment – because it’s not. While there are some new and improved features, and it is graphically the most amazing WWE title yet, I’d be lying if I told you the franchise has gone above and beyond expectations.
Once you reach the game’s starting menu and character selection, one of the first things you will notice is the lacking amount of characters to choose from. Where 2007’s title featured around 70 superstars, ’08 includes slightly over 50 characters from Raw, Smackdown, and ECW. This includes those who need to be unlocked, such as wrestling legends like Mick Foley, Stone Cold, The Rock, and the great Sabu.
The first mode I played was the brand new ECW Extreme Rules match up, which is something like the classic Hardcore mode, but the pinfall or submission must happen within the squared circle and you can only select ECW stars. In previous Smackdown installments, weapons were attained during a match by crouching beside the ring apron and reaching underneath to pull out whatever was offered to you – usually a table, ladder or chair. What’s new about the weapons setup in the Extreme Rules match is rather than just pulling out any random object from under the ring, a weapons wheel appears allowing you to choose from seven different tools of destruction. You can pick from mops, Singapore canes, and my personal favorite, a 2X4 wrapped in barb wire. What’s really cool is while you’re wielding a 2X4, the game will sometimes prompt you to tap a button. Doing so will make your character strike a match off his boot sole and set the weapon ablaze. While it doesn’t really do anything, it does create a nice visual and is a nice touch for longtime ECW fans who enjoy a bit of pyromania in their wrestling.
Also new in Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is its Hall Of Fame mode in which you must re-enact a famous match up like the infamous Hardy Boys TLC bout of 2000 or the gruesome Mick Foley Hell in a Cell match of 1998. Really, these aren’t match ups you couldn’t create on your own, but it’s still a pretty nice addition for the WWE enthusiast.
As for the single-player 24/7 mode, it’s basically a rehashed version of last-year’s Season and GM modes, but it combines the two. You can choose whether you want to play as your favorite superstar and fight your way to the top or play as a GM and guide your stars to becoming legends while managing salaries and storylines. If you’ve played last year’s edition, I see little reason to get excited about this disappointing feature.
Graphically, Smackdown vs. Raw ’08 is pretty stunning. There is amazing detail in each of the superstar’s facial features and it’s obvious developers Yuke’s Media have focused a lot on capturing their expressions while making their entrance to the ring and while fighting. Little details such as Tommy Dreamer chewing gum while he’s wrestling or Sandman’s grin while he’s walking to the ring give the game a nice, realistic feel.
The other thing I noticed about Smackdown vs. Raw ’08 is a lot more detail in the audience. Where Smackdown games of yesteryear saw two-dimensional figures standing in the crowd with only a few different-looking audience members making the exact same motions, ’08 features a more detailed audience with full three-dimensional figures to make things a lot more realistic. There is actually a level of interaction that you as a wrestler can have with various members of the crowd as well. As you walk along the barricade, some audience members outstretch weapons such as crutches or guitars that you can either grab from them and use on your opponent or throw your opponent into as your fan holds the weapon firmly in place. If you perform a taunt close enough to the barricade, you can sometimes perform a special interactive taunt with the audience.
It seems WWE has perhaps taken a page from the Def Jam book and made the game more interactive not only with the spectators but also with its environments. In a Parking Lot match, you can Irish whip your opponent into a parked vehicle, and as he lays unconscious against it you can grapple him and bash his head into the windshield to KO him instantly. Or, if you throw your opponent against the back of the parked hearse, you can perform a special finisher where your character pulls a coffin out the back and throws your opponent in to watch him get hauled off.
What I really miss about the Hardcore matches in the WWE games is the ability to roam freely throughout the entire arena, traveling room-to-room with your opponent from the parking lot to the lobby o the dressing rooms. The Pin Falls Anywhere mode is completely gone, which was one of my favorite things about the older Smackdown games.
It is, however, nice to see WWE has done more voiceover and commentating work this time around. Where often commentating got repetitive and annoying after hours of gaming, the franchise has made sure to include lots of different hilarious bantering between JR and King, JBL and Michael Cole, and Joey Styles and Taz. It still gets repetitive after a while, but Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 has made a step in the right direction here – let’s hope they continue it with future installments. Some superstars such as Kane have their own grunts and groans voiced over while they’re wrestling as well, which is a nice touch.
There are a lot of nice improvements here. It just seems WWE could exceed fans’ expectations, but they never really do. They continually add a few new interesting features each year knowing their loyal fans will probably purchase each edition regardless. Don’t misinterpret me; Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 is good – but it’s not great. Perhaps the franchise will start working harder in the future to give fans enough reason to purchase each installment year after year.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Stunning player models and animations makes this the most graphically impressive WWE title to date. 3.4 Control
Standard WWE wrestling controls, with minor changes such as the new struggle submission system, making hardly any difference in gameplay. 3.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Improved commentary is less repetitive than previous titles, but still needs work. 3.0 Play Value
With few improvements from previous WWE titles, there is little reason to get overly excited about this title. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.